A/N: Part 1 revised from this. More on this story at the end.
Amos was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper when Carine’s voice interrupted the stillness that had settled over the hostel all afternoon.
“Amos! Help, please!” she called in her distinctive heavy French accent.
With a heavy thump, she kicked aside the door, supporting the limp weight of a girl between herself and another hostel guest, Bryan. Amos jumped up to meet them, quickly putting one arm under the girl’s legs and the other around her shoulders. He was strong — still in good shape, although soccer season had ended in February — and the girl wasn’t exactly heavy either. Carine and Bryan gave up her weight as Amos brought her to the couch.
“We found her on the side of the trail next to the rockslide we found yesterday,” explained Bryan, wiping his forehead. “Carine thinks she might have a broken arm.”
Carine was hovering over her, checking her pulse and breathing. “I wish I could remember what my sister said about broken bones,” she muttered. She slipped into a string of French words that Amos couldn’t recognize. “Someone get me a… what is it called… a periodical.”
Trying not to laugh, Amos asked, “They taught you ‘periodical’ but you never learned slang like ‘I dunno’? What kind of messed up education system did you grow up in?”
She threw him a sobering look. “Amos, get me a periodical.”
“A magazine,” he said, heading back to the kitchen in search of one. “What for?”
“I am going to use it as… une attelle,” she told him. “For… support?”
“A splint,” he called behind him. “I’ll find some bandages, too.”
“I’ll go call the hospital,” said Bryan.
Amos returned with some bandages and a heavy magazine. Carine took them from him and splinted the girl’s forearm by wrapping the magazine around her arm and bandaging around the whole thing. Amos helped by holding her arm in place as Carine worked. He looked over at the girl’s face, her hair plastered against her forehead with sweat despite the coolness indoors. Amos frowned and put a hand on her forehead when Carine was finished. “She’s burning up,” he said worriedly, as Bryan returned from down the hall.
“Bad news,” announced Bryan. “The nearest hospital is way out there. Even if we had a car, it’d be a bumpy ride to the main road — the ambulance doesn’t come out this far so we’d have to hike to the main road.”
Amos swore. “Why are we so far away?”
“Because we’re wilderness hippies who like being far removed from paved roads,” answered Bryan with his usual deadpan sarcasm.
Ignoring him, Amos bent over the girl and felt her forehead again. “Her fever’s pretty high. It’s getting dark, and I know I can’t carry her very far anyway.” He straightened and stood there indecisively for a moment. “Even if we carried her together, it’s too far. If we can get her fever down tonight, we can try tomorrow.” He shrugged at the other two and disappeared into the kitchen in search of a washcloth.
He found one quickly and dampened it with some warm water from the tap. He could hear Carine and Bryan talking softly in the living room. Bryan turned to him when Amos returned with the washcloth in hand.
“We could make something to carry her with,” he suggested. “With poles and blankets or something.”
Amos nodded slowly as he knelt next to the girl’s still form. He wiped her forehead gently. “Or, you know, she might wake up.”
She was terribly quiet. That was his first impression of her — then again, what did he expect from a feverish, sleeping girl? But even in her sleep, Amos saw no sign of pain or discomfort in her still form under the blankets here in the first floor bedroom. His room was upstairs, but he had volunteered to stay downstairs to keep an eye on her for the night.
Bryan had lent him L’Etranger by Albert Camus two days ago upon learning that Amos had yet to read it. Carine, of course, scorned them both for not reading the original French version, but so far Amos saw nothing lacking in the translation. He sat at the bureau with the small desk light on, reading in the spotlight of pale yellow illumination, always with the bed in the corner of his eye. The girl’s small movements kept distracting him until finally he found himself simply watching her, the book open underneath one hand and his chin resting on the other.
He couldn’t quite place her nationality, not that it meant anything one way or another. She looked mostly European, although possibly part Hispanic or Latino judging from a particular rich tint in her hair and skin tone. It didn’t really matter; who knew where the people wandering the trail by this hostel came from? After all, Amos was part Chinese, part Welsh, part Russian-Slavic, a little French and Portuguese, and American by citizenship. Carine was probably mixed European but proudly French. Bryan was French Canadian, had been born in Quebec but raised in Vancouver, went to school in the States, had studied abroad this past spring in Madrid, and was now wandering through Europe until the end of summer vacation. There were two other Americans staying at the hostel, plus three German students, a middle-aged British couple, an Italian girl, and two Belgians who had been staying here for two months. Normally, Amos would only ask for the sake of polite conversation, but the complete lack of other information about this girl made him curious.
Glancing over his shoulder at the door, he flipped his book over to mark his place and got up to close it. Bryan had carried the girl’s backpack from the rockslide where they’d found her and it now rested at the foot of the bed. It looked small — she must travel extremely light. Looking at her still form again, he tapped his fingers against his other arm as he thought. Curiosity won out, and he knelt next to her backpack. A half-full water bottle in the side pocket… a Leatherman multi-tool clipped to the other side pocket with a few CLIF bars… nothing particularly revealing about any of that, although he took a moment to admire her Leatherman. He reached for the zipper on the outermost pocket, but suddenly he felt a pressure at the back of his neck.
“Ne bouge pas.”
Amos was temporarily startled by the low growl of her voice. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French –” he began, trying to turn towards her.
The pressure tightened. “Don’t move,” came the cold reply.
He heard her shift the blanket aside, and felt her put pressure against his lower back as well. Something told him if he tried to move, she might break his spine.
“Where am I?” she demanded. Her English sounded American.
“At a youth hostel in the French Alps,” he replied as calmly as he could.
“And why are you going through my backpack?”
He winced, but told the truth. “I was trying to find out who you are.”
Her weight shifted against him for a moment, and he heard her sharp intake of breath when she moved her wrist. He clenched his jaw and didn’t say anything.
“How long have I been here?” she asked. Her voice was losing its edge.
“Half a day,” he answered. “You’ve been feverish, and you probably broke your arm.”
She let go of him and sat back. Cautiously, he turned around to look at her. Her eyes were dark, dark brown pools watching him steadily in the dim light. She brushed aside her bangs with her good hand, the slightest hint of a smile lingering behind in her expression. She was pretty — maybe sixteen or seventeen, a little older than he’d guessed while she was asleep, and something about her confidence stuck with him.
“I didn’t open anything,” he tried to explain.
“I trust you,” she said.
A dubious look crossed his face for a moment. “You do?”
She smiled ever so slightly, like she was doing her best not to laugh. “My passport’s in my back pocket, which means you didn’t touch me while I was asleep.”
Trying to hide a smile, he straightened and moved the desk chair next to the bed. “I try to respect girls in their sleep.”
Now it was her turn to look skeptical. “Somehow I don’t get that vibe from you.”
“Bullshit,” he shot back. “What do you know about me?”
“Not a whole lot,” she admitted. “So, having gone through my backpack, what do you know about me?”
He almost flushed, but pointedly looked at the untouched zippered pockets. “Well, you don’t drink enough water while hiking; you have the Leatherman I almost bought except it doesn’t have a bottle opener — serious deal breaker right there; and you like carrot cake CLIF bars. Besides that, I figure you’re American, and you could probably use some painkillers right now… How’d I do?”
She shrugged. “I hate carrot cake CLIF bars, but I could use a metric ton of aspirin if you have that much.”
Laughing a little, he got up. “I’ll see what we’ve got.” He paused at the door. “I’m Amos, by the way.”
“Esther,” she replied, reaching over to shake his hand. She smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
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